'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Plagelot

I found an old black-and-white photo of the garden. It was taken when the lawns were hidden beneath a layer of snow. A snow man had been made. According to the writing on the back of the photo, his name was Hickey and he was suspected of being involved in the robbery of a shoe shop. The wife is always taking photos of the garden. She says that the present colours our memories, and that we need photos to see the past as it really was, without the layer of the present. Her aunt paints to add a layer over the present. Her latest painting of the garden includes a pinball machine.

My cousin Rachel is a member of an Amateur Dramatics Society. Napoleon was a character in one of their plays. Many historical figures appeared in it, from Machiavelli to Scooby Doo. One of Rachel's neighbours, a man called Liam, had a replica of Napoleon's hat. He allowed them to use it in the play, but he warned them to be careful with it. The warning was heeded, but this didn't prevent the actor playing Napoleon from spilling soup on the hat. It left a stain, and a bit of a smell, but the hat wasn't badly damaged.

The hat had been entrusted into the care of Robert, and it was his job to return it. He wasn't looking forward to this. Liam had a glass eye and he could be frightening when he glared at people. Rachel told Robert she'd go with him. She was looking after Daisy and Graham, her niece and nephew, and she brought them along too.

When they got to Liam's house, Rachel waited outside with the kids. Robert said, "I thought you said you were coming in with me."

"I said I'd 'go' with you. I didn't say I'd meet him as well."

"She's got a point there," Graham said.

Robert didn't push the point because he hated arguments when the kids got involved. The only way you could win was if you kept repeating the same point for hours.

So Robert went inside and he was back out within two minutes. "Bad news," he said. "He wants two-hundred euros to get a new hat. I told him it just needs to be cleaned, and we'd pay for cleaning it, but he insisted on the money."

"Did you give in?" Rachel said.

"I didn't have much choice. I never noticed this before, but his glass eye is black. At least I assume it's made out of glass. If he was able to grow it himself, that'd be a bit odd."

Rachel said, "You don't grow things like eyes and livers and toes and things. They grow by themselves."

"In you."

"Yeah, but you don't water them and give them fertilizer and manure."

"You eat and drink and exercise."

"You don't look at your eye and say, 'My eye could do with a bit of water.'"

"No. You look at your eye and say, 'There's something wrong with my eye.' So you go to the doctor and he gives you a prescription for it."

"Yeah, but you don't 'grow' them. It's not like a vegetable competition to see who has the biggest cabbage or melon."

"People grow their muscles and compete against each other to see who has the biggest muscles. That's a vegetable competition."

"You can grow muscles," Rachel said, "but not eyes. Most people never put any thought into the growth of their eyes."

"Most people never put any thought into the growth of plants either. You just put them in the ground and let nature do the rest. Wild flowers don't need anyone to think about them. Putting them in the ground wouldn't be as much fun as making kids, but they'll be a lot less trouble later on. And flowers wouldn't be as ugly as kids."

"Okay, so he didn't 'grow' the black eye, but he chose it himself. He could have chosen one that looks like his other eye, but he chose a black one. That's weird."

Robert said, "When I was in a museum once I saw a stuffed plagelot, and its eyes looked black. The plagelot is extinct now. They were a sort of a cross between a duck and a kangaroo. 'Dungaroo' would have been a better name for them."

Daisy said, "People would have got confused with dungarees."

"Well 'duckeroo' then," Alan said.

"That's just like 'Buckeroo'," Graham said.

"What's Buckeroo?"

"It's a game where you put little ropes and buckets and things onto a little plastic horse and hope he doesn't buckeroo and throw them all off."

"It's quite possible that the man who named the plagelot was just about to name it the 'dungaroo' but he stopped and thought, 'Wait a minute, what if someone confuses it with dungarees? I don't know if dungarees have been invented yet, but just to be safe, I'll call it a duckeroo instead. But wait a minute, what if someone invents a game where you put things on a small plastic horse and calls it Buckeroo? I better call it something else instead. I think I'll call it a plagelot.'"

"Who named it?" Daisy said.

"I have no idea."

"Why do you assume it was a man?"

"Because a woman would have far too much sense to call something a plagelot just in case someone invented a horse that may or may not buck when you put things on it. And they'd have too much sense to wear dungarees too."

"But the man was right about Buckeroo," Graham said.

"I doubt if this plagelot even exists," Rachel said.

"Why would you doubt that?" Robert said.

"It just sounds a bit too unbelievable. A cross between a duck and a kangaroo. You've probably just taken your idea of a duck and your idea of a kangaroo and melted them together. You've created the plagelot in your own head by melting things together. Possibly after sniffing melting plastic."

"No, I saw it in a museum."

"You need to do a bit of spring cleaning in your head. People take in all sorts of information and theories and ideas. It's like storing them all in the attic. You've got to look at these things and ask what should you throw out and what's worth holding onto. The plagelot should definitely go in the bin."

"What if you found Anne Frank hiding in your attic? Would you have all of her information and theories and ideas too?"

"No, because that Anne would be constructed from things already in your attic, a bit like the plagelot. She'd be put together from all the things up there. Her head might be a mop and her body might be a cardboard box."

"What would be the point of making an Anne Frank like that?"

"I don't know. You're the one who asked about her."

"Yeah, but the Anne Frank in my head doesn't have a mop for a head."

"It was just a metaphor. We're talking about your brain, not an attic."

Daisy and Graham decided to make their own version of the plagelot using an old teddy bear whose eyes were missing. They used a black button for one eye and a daisy for the other (because it was something he could grow on his face). They dressed him in dungarees. They attached things from Buckeroo to his hands, like a bucket, a rope and a pickaxe.

Rachel took the kids and their plagelot to see Robert. "That's very impressive," he said when he saw it. "It's not quite like the real plagelot, but it's a good interpretation. I've been working on a creation of my own. I took your advice about cleaning out my attic. I found Anne Frank there."

He showed them the version of Anne Frank he had made. It was a box with a mop sticking out of it. He had taped gloves to the box to represent hands.

"If that's the version of Anne Frank in your attic," Rachel said, "then I never want to go into your attic."

Daisy put the plagelot on the ground next to Anne Frank. "I think they work well together," she said. "They look as if they both come from the same attic."

Rachel asked Robert if he had collected the two-hundred euros for the hat. He said he had, but the other members of the Amateur Dramatics Society had been very reluctant to pay because they blamed him for giving in to Liam.

Liam called to collect the money later that day. Robert invited him in, and then he went upstairs to get the money. Liam noticed the plagelot, but he didn't recognise it at a plagelot. He saw the single black eye and he assumed it was a voodoo doll of himself. It wouldn't have been the first time someone made a voodoo doll of Liam. He had suffered unexplained pains in many parts of his body. But Robert had done something even worse than sticking a pin in his head -- he put dungarees on the doll. Liam knew something had been wrong. He thought it was just something he ate (either the cake he got off a dog or the sausages with the illegible 'best before' date). He saw the daisy in the other eye socket and he wondered what that could mean. Did it suggest the doll was dead, and pushing up the daisies? Even if he was dead he'd feel uncomfortable in dungarees.

Then he saw the much bigger being looming over him, the one with the mop for a head. He wondered who that could be. He was afraid to destroy the doll of himself, and he was even more afraid of the other one.

When Robert returned to the room, Liam was taking the dungarees off the doll.

"Who's the one with the mop for a head?" Liam said.

"Anne Frank."

"Anne Frank?"


"Are you out to get Anne Frank or me?"

Robert was sure there must have been a third option. He tried to think of one, but he couldn't think straight under pressure. "It's a metaphor," he said.

Liam didn't understand this. It only made him more suspicious, and he left without saying another word. He took the money and the dungarees. Robert thought this was odd.

Liam feared the wrath of a superior being. He assumed that any being who was superior to him would be warthful because that was his experience with humans. For him to consider anyone as superior, they'd have to beat him in a fight outside a pub, so benevolent people didn't stand a chance. If it really was Anne Frank, he'd be okay, but he didn't think it was her. He had to take action because he hated being afraid of something he couldn't threaten with a broken bottle.

He had to fight fire with fire. Benevolence wouldn't settle this. So he made a voodoo doll of Robert, and he put it in his field next to a scarecrow. He dressed the scarecrow up as Hitler. He took a photo of the doll next to the scarecrow and he sent it to Robert, but Robert didn't recognise himself. He showed it to Rachel and he said, "This is even weirder than when he took the dungarees off the plagelot. He's really freaking me out."

Liam's scarecrow didn't go down too well in the locality. An angry mob protested outside his house one evening. He didn't know why they were protesting, and he assumed it was Robert's response to the photo. Liam thought that this was like being beaten outside a pub, so he accepted defeat to a more sinister being. He left the house through the back door and headed for Robert's place. On the way he saw that his scarecrow had been set on fire.

He arrived at Robert's house in an agitated state. Robert was just about to say, "Please don't hurt me." But before he had a chance, Liam said, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry about the voodoo doll and everything. Is it about the hat? Here, take the money back. I'll just get it cleaned."

Liam gave the money back to Robert and he left.

When Robert was telling Rachel about it on the following day, she figured out what Liam was referring to when he mentioned the voodoo doll. She said, "He made a representation of you in doll form. That's probably an idea you'd want to clear out of your attic."

"Now I know how Anne Frank must have felt."


"I don't know. Who is Anne Frank anyway?"

The moose's head over the fireplace is looking forward to the All-Ireland football final on Sunday. It's Cork against Kerry. As if winning an All-Ireland wasn't good enough, there's the added bonus of doing it by defeating Kerry. Of course, being beaten by Kerry would require the swift construction of a hole to hide in, but no one's considering that.